Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 153: Visiting NCHD "Pehla Qadam" Basic Literacy Schools, Sheikhupura

Tues., March 1, 2011

I got the opportunity to visit two of NCHD's (National Commission for Human Development) "Pehla Qadam" schools in Sheikhupura, Pakistan today. The first was an Adult Literacy center and the other was a Universal Primary Education school (You can read more about NCHD's programs here ). The visit was a wonderful and eye-opening experience, and I plan to write up a thorough survey based on my observations.

NCHD's Education goal is to provide basic Education/Literacy to as many children and adults in Pakistan as possible in order to significantly reduce the country's illiteracy rate. As a result, their focus is on providing mass, quality education through the donations they receive and the funds the organization's members put in independently. The centers allow as many Pakistanis as possible to gain a basic education, and the organization is working on gathering enough funds to eventually improve the physical facilities available to students. Teacher training, curriculum development, and mass numbers of schools are the primary foci for the time being.

The Adult Literacy program focuses on educating adults (particularly women) between the ages of 13 and 39. However, at the center that I visited today, there were even women in their 40s+ and an old woman who must have been no less than 85, all having learned how to read and write basic Urdu at this NCHD school within 3 months. When my mother and I spoke with these women, I immediately got the sense that they were all eager to learn and to improve their socio-economic positions through gaining literacy and basic vocational skills (handicrafts). The younger girls in their early 20s seemed especially excited to share their opinions about why they thought literacy was important, and each of them expressed that it would be key in helping them become independent. The older women in their late 30s and 40s+ expressed that they felt becoming educated was helping them immensely because it has allowed them to then go home and teach their own children.

When we moved on to the Universal Primary Education center, I was firstly (as expected) overcome by the cute children (how can you walk into any kindergarten classroom and not be goo-gooing over the little ones?). Children from each of the various elementary grade levels volunteered to come up and recite something they had learned, like the ABCs or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or a Naat. The children, once used to seeing so many people come in with cameras and a few men in business suits, began to respond to my waves and smiles and questions. I really wish I could have spent more time with them, but we had to move on.

We had a special moment at this school where the parents of some of the children of this school had taken time off their daily activities to come and speak with us in a panel. While there were a few mothers there, the majority of the parents were fathers, which was actually surprising. We asked them questions about their satisfaction level with the NCHD school, and also their perceptions about education in general. All of the fathers, who were illiterate themselves, said that they were so happy to have the opportunity to send their children to school, and when we asked what they felt about their daughters getting educated, they all broke out at once to say that they were absolutely pro-education for women. We asked why and they said that an education would allow their daughters to be able to support themselves, to make them independent, and would also help them educate and raise their own children in an appropriate manner.

On our car ride back out of Sheikhupura, our guide informed us that when she had first come in to this community (where the small alleyways have muddy, unpaved roads and the location might be considered something in between a village and a very small town), the adults were extremely resistant to educating the women and girls because of conservative notions of "what education would do to women" and how school time might take away from boys' time in making money. However, NCHD's members worked and discussed closely with the adults of this community, and within a short time (as you read above), both the women and men were more than happy to have the opportunity to educate as many community members, both male and female, as possible.

With the support of Pakistanis and Pakistanis in the diaspora that can afford it, organizations like NCHD and DIL (Developments in Literacy) will continue to be able to provide mass, quality education to the majority of Pakistanis, something that Pakistan's own government has failed to do. It will be up to us to help our fellow desis gain an education that will allow them to create better communities for themselves.

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